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Sealant vs. Filling: Which Does My Child Need?

Sealant vs. Filling: Which Does My Child Need?

Unfortunately, tooth decay can impact your children even if you enforce proper dental hygiene and ensure they receive professional dental care. Whether cavities develop in primary or baby teeth, they shouldn’t be ignored. 

Dental sealants and fillings are two types of treatments that coat or shield your child’s teeth from the damage of tooth decay. While they seem to have similar purposes, dental sealants and fillings differ in their uses and many other ways. 

Taking your child for regular dental examinations is the best way to prevent permanent damage from tooth decay. Pediatric dentist Staci Brunell, DMD, and our staff at Yorktown Pediatric Dentistry in Yorktown Heights, New York, provide a complete range of professional dental services. After an assessment of your child’s oral health, Dr. Brunell recommends and administers sealants or fillings based on whether your child needs restorative or preventative treatment. 

Find out what these treatments involve and how they differ in the way they protect your child’s teeth from severe damage or potential tooth loss. 

Dental sealants

Dental sealants are painted onto the chewing surfaces of your child’s teeth. They provide a physical barrier to bacteria and food debris that can stick to these areas. When these materials are allowed to remain on unprotected teeth, they can cause tooth decay. 

Dental sealants are usually applied to the premolars and molars, the most posterior teeth in your child’s mouth. These teeth are targeted because their location makes them the most difficult teeth to keep clean, increasing their risk of cavities. 

Dental fillings

Dental fillings are treatments used to repair a cavity, or small hole, in the enamel, or outer area, of your child’s tooth. Cavities result when plaque, a sticky material that includes food debris and bacteria, is allowed to remain on your child’s tooth. The material forms a destructive acid that attacks tooth enamel and results in cavities. 

A dental filling is a treatment that uses a small amount of tooth-colored composite material or silver metal to fill in the damage caused by plaque. A filling restores a smooth chewing surface and prevents the underlying nerves from being exposed and causing pain. 

How these sealants and fillings differ


Dental sealants are preventive treatments that are used to protect a tooth against possible damage. They are applied on the back teeth, which have deep grooves on the chewing surfaces, where it is easy for bacteria and food debris to settle and attack tooth enamel. 

Dental sealants have proven effective in preventing 80% of cavities in premolars and molars, where 90% of cavities develop. Sealants are usually applied soon after these permanent teeth erupt, usually at 6 years and 12 years of age. Dental sealants may also be used to treat a cavity that develops on a baby tooth if a dental filling isn’t appropriate.

Dental fillings are a restorative treatment used on teeth that have been damaged by decay or cavities. The decayed or damaged section of the tooth is removed and replaced with the filling. The filling restores the lost portion of the tooth and protects it against bacteria that could cause an infection or more decay. 


Dental sealants are made of plastic. The treatment is painted onto the tooth as a liquid and quickly hardens with the application of a UV light. The result is a clear, strong plastic barrier. 

Dental fillings are available in many types of materials that include silver amalgam, composite resin, porcelain, and gold. The material used depends on the location of your child’s filling and the health of the affected tooth. Silver amalgam may be used when treating cavities at the back of the mouth, while tooth-colored porcelain or composite resin may be used to treat cavities at the front of the mouth for a more natural appearance. 


While dental sealants are strong, they are subject to the wear-and-tear of everyday chewing since they sit on the chewing surfaces of your child’s teeth. Over time, sealants gradually wear away and may require reapplication. While sealants are typically used in children, adults who are prone to cavities can also benefit from this treatment. 

A dental filling is considered a permanent part of your child’s tooth. The materials used in dental fillings can often last a lifetime when proper oral hygiene is followed. Dental fillings rarely need replacement.

Find out more about the ways sealants and fillings can help protect the health of your child’s teeth. Contact our office to arrange a consultation.

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